I tried my best to forget about my stomach as I lay my head down on Saturday night. I tossed and turned a bit, the usual for the night before a marathon. I did however get good rest. I woke up on Sunday feeling good. No stomach issues. I debated if I should have coffee or not, but my need for caffeine won that battle.
The forecast for race day was pretty much every changing the ten days leading up to the race, but it had been nothing but beautiful and cool since I arrived on Friday. I went down to the hotel lobby and went outside to see for myself what I would be facing. Much to my delight, the temperature was about 50 degrees, but felt even cooler because of the wind. My 4 am wake up call, and strong coffee in hand I was now walking around the outside of the hotel getting a feel for race day. Super stoked that it felt amazing outside. Perfect for a marathon.
After all of my normal race morning preparations, I walked to Michigan Avenue, and proceeded south amid a sea of marathon runners. I opted not to wear a long sleeve throw away shirt, and regretted it for the walk. The wind died down though as I got closer to Gate #1, my entrance into Grant Park for Corral D. The sea of runners was now a full blown ocean! Slowly we crept along into the park through the security checkpoint. I have to give it to Chicago on this one. There were plenty of security guards, and volunteers all checking us out. Checking bibs and bags, making sure everything was in order, and that runners were in the right places. It was about 7am at this point, as I made my way in the direction of the start corrals A-D. A severe lack of portopotties at this juncture meant a mad dash for everyone. We had to be in the corrals by 7:20, and as that time quickly approached the bathroom lines seemed to not be moving. Guys formed lines along a fence because we had to. Letting our junk fly for all to see. The women? Not sure how they managed. I made it into my corral with two minutes to spare.
Happy to be there, one in the crowd, I started some stretches. The feeling in the air was electric. Runners as far as I could see both in front of me and behind me. Throw away clothes were flying everywhere as we all prepared for the gun. At 7:30:01 a.m. the race officially started. I just couldn’t believe that I was actually there, about to run the Chicago Marathon. It was one of the best feelings of excitement ever. After about six minutes we started moving, ever so slowly. Roars and applause brought me to the starting line at 7:38. My Chicago had begun. Marathon #15 underway. I was feeling loose, and ready to run.
The first mile took us north on Columbus toward Grand Avenue. It was evident just moments into the race that I would have to be very careful with my steps. So many runners meant very little wiggle room at times. I almost never was cut off, but did have to severely increase and decrease my pace at times in the beginning just to move around the crowd. The spectators were out in force from the very start. Lining both sides of most of the route, I quickly realized that no matter what, I would always have someone cheering for me.
Just past mile 1 we once again turned to head south on N. State St. That’s where my hotel was, and my cheering section would be for the first time. Happy, running well, we waved and I moved on. I was just absolutely blown away by the crowd. Through thick and thin, I knew I was in for a real treat. Thousands and thousands of adoring family, friends and locals, I have never experienced anything like it. It was energizing.
With another turn on Jackson and then back north again on Lasalle we neared the 5k mark. I missed my cheering section at the corner of Kinzie and LaSalle. Through the crowds it was almost impossible to get there before I did. So I ran on. I felt good, and full of energy. We continued on and the miles progressed. By mile 5 we were in the Lincoln Park Zoo. Up until then I hadn’t even dared to stop at a water station because they were just too crowded. I just focused on staying in the middle of the route to avoid as many tossed cups as possible. By now I was good and warmed up, and really running freely.
The next several miles really went by pretty quickly, and I could tell that I was maintaining a very even pace. I focused on taking in the views and the crowd support. One thing that is incredible about the Chicago Marathon is that you get to run through many of the distinct and ethnic neighborhoods all over the city. The marathon website states that runners pass through 29 unique neighborhoods. You could almost feel the differences as you passed though them. Different faces, unique shop fronts and smells from the local restaurants. It was really cool. From small four piece bands, to a singing Elvis, to the ROTC performing a rifle routine set to music, each area was so unique and different. I enjoyed it all. It made the miles really melt away at times. We’ve all run races with boring sections, and there is nothing worse than miles and miles of boring views on a marathon course. I can guarantee you that you will not find this true in Chicago.
As I started nearing the mid way section of the course I started to look for some more running friends. A cheer section quickly approached on the right. Friends of mine who I ran the Blue Ridge Marathon in Virginia a few years ago were to be there cheering on runners. Sure enough, just as I was passing them, I saw Angie. Quickly stopping to give her a sweaty hug, my way of saying thanks for supporting not only me, but everyone else out there running that day. It surely gave me a boost! She quickly flashed the sign she made “Go Paul Go”, as I disappeared back into the running crowd.
As I approached the 12 mile mark I once again began looking for Lance, who would be on the corner of Hubbard and Orleans. He had texted me that he wasn’t going to miss me again after not being able to get to the three mile mark. I guess it was the mix of runners, and the increased crowd at this point in the race, that I flew by and completely missed him. I did my absolute best to scan the crowds, but just couldn’t find him. Another missed opportunity for a personal cheer section. Oh well, I was disappointed. I couldn’t believe that he made his way all the way to that spot, and then I didn’t get to high 5 him.
It was shortly after this, nearing the 13.1 timing mat that I looked at my Garmin to check my pace. I glanced at it once, and then again. What in the world? Somehow it had reset itself (obviously I bumped it or something) and was now saying that I was only 1.5 miles into my run. Argh!! I was so pissed! Total Garmin fail. Now I had to run by feel. I no longer had an accurate reading of my pace, so I just decided to go with my gut, and let the legs do the work without worrying about how fast they were moving.
The best way I can describe the second half of the race is that even when I felt a twinge of tiredness, my fellow runners and the spectators almost willed me along. The entire course from start to finish I only took quick walk breaks through a half dozen water stops so that I could get my hydration without choking. I never stopped otherwise. I barely remember even being tired. The electricity generated by the crowd was something I will never forget.
I really enjoyed the second half of Chicago. I can hardly say this about most marathons, but I truly did. My legs and feet continued to feel great, no stomach issues, no pain whatsoever. I just took in the sights and sounds. The applause and cheers were amazing. My favorite sign along the course was this. Taken from the web because I couldn’t snap a picture in time…
I think I laughed out loud. I had never seen that one before. I was just pure joy on race day.
As I was nearing the finish I snapped this picture….
Yes, that is the finish in the distance, sparsely populated with spectators due to Boston, but nonetheless an unbelievable ending to the race. Look at that view!
I raised my hands at the finish, so happy to have completed this epic race. Taking in some nourishment and wrapped in a foil blanket I stopped for a moment to drink. Funniest and grossest moments of the day about to happen. As I stopped, a beautiful blonde woman had also stopped to drink her Gatorade. I was amazed at how awesome she looked, as she had just completed 26.2 miles. She looked relaxed and put together. Then, she turned to stretch her calves on the curb, and that’s the moment I knew. She had shit running down the back of her legs, all caked on like it had been there for miles and miles. She went from beautiful to nasty in two seconds flat! Come on woman, stop to clean that shit up!
I walked on, leaving previously beautiful blonde runner in the dust. A sea of foil blankets, A beautiful medal draped around my neck. My Chicago Marathon was everything I had wished for, and left me wanting more. I shall return again Chicago, to experience your great city and people. You put on one amazing marathon, and made me feel so welcome. Thank you!
With over 40,000 finishers I am happy to say that I finished in the top 15%.